Opinion: Varsity Blues Scandal Highlights Need for Level Playing Field

By Ethan Wilt, Guest Columnist

After news of the college admissions scandal broke earlier this year, I—like many other students—wasn’t surprised by how much these parents were willing to pay for their children to attend elite colleges. The idea of the ultra rich donating large sums of money to top colleges has been widely known but rarely brought up in discussions about college admissions. These acts are legal, and are still prevalent today.

The college admissions scandal differed from the traditional form of donating in exchange for places at schools since the scheme was completely illegal. What made Operation Varsity Blues so extraordinary was how widespread the illegal scheme was with almost fifty parents indicted on fraud and racketeering charges. The scheme involved parents donating money to a foundation that would make sure their kids SAT/ACT scores increased significantly. The other aspect of the scandal involved parents shelling out massive amounts of money to college athletic officials to guarantee college acceptance as athletic recruits, even if the child didn’t play the sport.  

When the headlines broke the news of the college admissions scandal, the two parents that claimed much of the attention were Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin. Hoffman had paid $15,000 for a proctor to fix her daughter’s answers on the SAT while Loughlin paid $500,000 to college athletic officials as bribes to designate her daughters as crew recruits. What followed the scandal was a steep decline in popularity and respectability for the celebrities, as they mostly kept silent about the issue.

On September 13th, Felicity Hoffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service hours for her role in the college admissions scandal. Hoffman’s sentencing seems to be somewhat lenient considering she paid an estimated $15,000 for a proctor to change her daughter’s answers on the SAT. This act resulted in her score going up about 400 points. In my opinion, the punishment doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed and should be more severe. Hoffman, along with all the other parents indicated, compromised the integrity of the college admissions process. Their actions continue to prove the point that higher education is only for people in the highest income bracket. It also highlights the fact that affluent people will continue to find ways to use the system to their benefit. 

In a letter Hoffman wrote asking for leniency, she discusses how her daughter’s low math scores threatened her chances of going to college and pursuing a career in acting. What any normal parent of her means would do is hire an SAT tutor or meet with her guidance counselor to explore alternative ways of improving her math scores. Instead, Hoffman decided to pay a foundation to cheat the system. The thing that confuses me the most is the lengths she goes to when, in reality, the resources that were needed to support her were readily available. 

Lori Loughlin is currently awaiting her trial after she pleaded not guilty to the charges. If Hoffman’s sentencing was any indication, I would say that Loughlin will receive a much harsher sentencing due to the fact that she paid college officials an estimated $500,000. I hope the sentence set for Lori accurately reflects the crimes she committed and allows her to understand how her actions have had a wide ranging effect on the college admissions process. 

Out of all the other parents charged in the indictment, Hoffman paid the least amount of money to the foundation running the scheme. The payments ranged from $50,000 donations to sports directors to $500,000 donations to college officials. This may be a reason why Hoffman’s sentencing was as lenient as it was since she was considered to have done the least wrong compared to other parents, like Loughlin. 

Hoffman and Loughlin’s actions further prove the assumption that all children of celebrities and affluent people deserve to go to top colleges still exists today. 

I believe the investigation into the scandal failed to acknowledge the known fact that people are doing the exact same thing. But it isn’t considered illegal since they aren’t bribing college officials but rather donating directly to the college. A student’s eligibility for acceptance to college shouldn’t involve their socio-economic background; but sadly, in some cases, the ability to donate a large sum of money to a university does have a massive impact. 

The daunting college admissions process for first generation and low income students is made even harder due to the actions of those at the center of this scandal. First generation students already face an uphill battle in attending college, and this scandal shows how there are many undeserving rich children taking spots away from stellar students of low income backgrounds. The college admissions process inherently favors middle and upper class students due to its extra fees and complicated application processes. Students who are unable to pay the application fee or complete FAFSA lose out on the advantages of college. Meanwhile, the ultra rich who cheat their way through the system are rewarded with attending the top colleges in the United States.

I hope Operation Varsity Blues is a wake up call for colleges to recognize the value in building a diverse class that fully deserves to be there. With the future class of ‘24 currently in the midst of the college application process, it is important to remember that everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, deserves to be on the same playing field.

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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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